The Owner and Trainer (1943-1947)
Peter Riddle was, as Harry Telford was to Phar Lap, the man that created the racehorse Shannon. Born in country Victoria on 26 July 1884, Riddle was the son of a trotting driver, and as such was instilled with horsemanship from the earliest age. Like his father, he became a premiership-winning driver in New South Wales and New Zealand until he took up flat training in 1927. A tender hand with a horse, he met only moderate success in Sydney before buying Shannon in 1943. The bay horse became the centre of his life, and though seriously ill, Riddle never compromised Shannon's welfare. Kind, gently spoken, relatively tall and thin, the ailing trainer was one of Randwick's gentle creatures. When he eventually passed away on 29 June 1947, Shannon was the only horse in his yard. (Photo courtesy of Mardi Henderson)
Barney O'Brien was first Peter Riddle's stablehand, then his foreman through the 1940s. When Shannon arrived in the yard in April 1943, the ageing O'Brien took the horse into his charge, breaking him and becoming his full-time strapper. Immediately, the pair were inseparable. The strapper taught the horse many tricks; Shannon would take his friend's hat off, and steal his newspaper every morning. Outside of Shannon, however, next to nothing is known about O'Brien. He was born around 1892, and was a leading rider on the country circuit before heading to Sydney to ply his trade. He married, had a family and set up at Glebe, but during Shannon's years at Randwick, it was well known that O'Brien slept mostly outside the horse's stable. Much as racing has made of the Woodcock-Phar Lap relationship, little to nothing was ever recorded of the immense bond between Barney O'Brien and Shannon.
The Owner (Aug 1947-Jan 1948)
W.J. Smith was the boss of Australian Consolidated Industries when he purchased Shannon at public auction in August 1947. Exceedingly wealthy, Smith had earned his way into highballing Sydney society as few had, and he had the temperament to stay there. Famously bullish, with a fierce temper but a very fair and loyal employer, Smith, or 'Knockout' as he was known, was also a racing man. Before Shannon, he had executed the sales of Beau Pere and Ajax to America, and after only four races in Smith colours, Shannon suffered the same fate. Smith sold the horse to the US only three months after buying him, frustrated that Shannon would not recoup his purchase price in Australia. Smith's handling of the sale was poor, and when he eventually managed to sell Shannon in January 1948, it was not without controversy. But horses were a business to Smith, and he doggedly maintained that ethos when it came to offloading Shannon.
The Owner (Jan 1948-May 1955)
Neil Steere McCarthy was Shannon's fifth owner, after his breeder at Kia Ora Stud, Peter Riddle, W.J. Smith and, for a number of weeks in November/December 1947, racetrack caterer Harry Curland. A Hollywood attorney, McCarthy entered into Shannon's life when he was hired to present Shannon's breeding to the American Stud Book. Brilliant, with a grasp of PR that sidestepped all horsemen in California, McCarthy purchased Shannon for $84,000 when no one else wanted the horse. Born in Arizona on 6 May 1888, McCarthy practiced law in downtown Los Angeles. He was a critical spoke in the wheels of MGM, Paramount Studios and the Howard Hughes empire. He was also a compassionate and farsighted horseman. His affection for the Australian Shannon remains one of the most beautiful elements of the horse's story.
In Australia, Shannon was famous for his partnership with the salubrious jockey Darby Munro. But the horse was also ridden by three other jocks during his Sydney career - Fred Shean, who piloted the horse in all of his two-year-old starts until suspension ruled him out of racing; William Martell, who's only ride on the horse proved fruitless, and famous George Moore, who stepped in for an injured Munro in the Theo Marks Quality of 1946. In America, Shannon was ridden by Noel 'Spec' Richardson in his first four races, before the brilliant Johnny Longden climbed aboard. But Longden could get nothing out of the Australian horse. It was only when Johnny Adams took over (pictured right), a sympathetic rider who allowed Shannon to run his own race from the back of a field, that the horse hit his straps in California. Shannon also was ridden once by William Bailey in a tight finish for second, while his final rider in his last five races was Jack Westrope. Both Westrope and Adams seemed to suit Shannon perfectly, and it was these two men, along with Darby Munro, that got the best out of Shannon throughout his career.